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  • (emotional music)

  • - What you really want to see is Black Wall Street.

  • You want to see the Greenwood District

  • thriving with hundreds of Black-owned businesses

  • lining the streets of Greenwood.

  • However, much of the property today

  • does not belong to African Americans.

  • - It's a gift to be able to say

  • you come from such amazing people,

  • and that you're on the grounds of what used to be

  • something the world had never seen before.

  • I've always felt a connection to Black Wall Street

  • and to rebirth it.

  • - [Narrator] The Tulsa Massacre of 1921

  • destroyed nearly 200 businesses

  • in the area that came to be known as Black Wall Street.

  • Now, entrepreneurs and activists

  • are pushing to carry on its legacy.

  • They're advocating for more Black-owned businesses

  • and property ownership, amid gentrification

  • that's reshaping the historic Black neighborhood.

  • The Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma

  • was once a center of Black wealth

  • in the early 20th century.

  • Located north of railroad tracks

  • that divided Tulsa during segregation,

  • it was home to thousands

  • of Black Tulsans and their businesses.

  • But 1921, white mobs attacked the district

  • killing dozens of Black residents

  • and destroying about 35 square blocks

  • over the course of one night.

  • Researchers say the damages filed in court cases decades ago

  • total over 22 million in today's dollars.

  • But this likely underestimates the actual losses,

  • as not everyone had full insurance coverage,

  • or went to court.

  • After the massacre, Black entrepreneurs

  • worked to rebuild Greenwood.

  • But local historians say the district went through a decline

  • as desegregation led to outward migration,

  • and urban renewal programs

  • displaced Black-owned businesses and residents.

  • Today, Greenwood consists of about four city blocks.

  • There's not much housing stock in the neighborhood,

  • and just over two dozen Black-owned

  • or operated businesses remain registered

  • with the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce.

  • - The Historic Greenwood Chamber of Commerce

  • owns the last 10 buildings known as Black Wall Street.

  • We house 33 businesses.

  • 31 of them are African American.

  • So we're still doing what our ancestors did.

  • It might not be Black Wall Street,

  • but it's definitely a Black Main Street.

  • And so we have to preserve this.

  • - [Narrator] While there's a growing number

  • of Black-owned businesses in this district,

  • some of the newer establishments are tenants

  • in buildings owned by white developers.

  • That's a reversal of fortune from 100 years ago

  • when many of the property owners were Black.

  • The massacre destroyed real estate assets

  • that could have been passed to future generations.

  • - Our oldest living survivor, Daddy Clark,

  • died at 109 years old.

  • He was a teenager.

  • His photograph is on exhibit in the gallery

  • - [Narrator] Tulsa residents like Mechelle Brown-Burdex,

  • say it's important to keep telling the story

  • of how prosperous Black residents of Greenwood were

  • before it's decline.

  • - We were never taught that African-Americans

  • were business owners,

  • that they were pilots,

  • and electricians, and doctors, and attorneys.

  • And I was shocked that we had never learned about this.

  • Being born in Tulsa, being raised in Tulsa,

  • attending Black history classes.

  • - [Narrator] Brown-Burdex coordinates educational programs

  • and tours for the Greenwood Cultural Center.

  • - We thought that this was the perfect time

  • in the spirit of Black Wall Street

  • to identify and promote Black-owned businesses

  • in our community.

  • - [Narrator] As the city commemorates

  • the centennial of the massacre,

  • Brown-Burdex has teamed up with a local co-working space

  • and incubator to create a guide

  • of Black-owned businesses in the area.

  • - When we first began this work,

  • many people were opposed to us

  • even acknowledging or recognizing the history

  • of Black Wall Street or of the massacre.

  • Now, as we approach the commemoration,

  • there is much more support.

  • - [Narrator] It's clear things are changing again

  • in the Greenwood neighborhood.

  • A different museum called Greenwood Rising

  • is among the construction projects

  • redefining the look of the area.

  • - It's a challenge because some of our work is quite similar

  • but we are finding ways that we can compliment one another

  • as opposed to competing with one another.

  • - [Narrator] Oklahoma State Senator Kevin Matthews,

  • who heads the commission overseeing Greenwood Rising,

  • says the museum is working with organizations

  • throughout the Historic District

  • to tell the neighborhood story in cooperative ways.

  • Still, Brown-Burdex says her vision for Greenwood

  • remains the same.

  • - Personally, I would love to see more

  • Black-owned businesses in the Greenwood district.

  • I would love to see home ownership increase in this area.

  • - [Narrator] After being displaced by urban renewal projects

  • decades ago, many Black Tulsans

  • now live in the city's north side.

  • - Mm-hm.

  • This is my home, this is neighborhood I grew up in.

  • - [Narrator] Tyrance Billingsley II, a tech entrepreneur,

  • recently learned about his family's ties

  • to the rebirth of Greenwood in the 1930s.

  • - What I know is little, but I do know that

  • my direct descendants were cousins of people

  • who helped donate to Vernon A.M.E. Church

  • and help rebuild it.

  • - [Narrator] Billingsley is now looking to carry on

  • the spirit of Greenwood in his own way.

  • - The actual district of Greenwood,

  • obviously it's being heavily gentrified.

  • I like to think of Greenwood as two different things.

  • The body is the land in and of itself.

  • And then there's the spirit, or the breath.

  • The breath of Greenwood is the spirit

  • that Black entrepreneurship,

  • the sense of community,

  • the breath of Greenwood is very much still alive.

  • - [Narrator] Billingsley is spearheading a project

  • he hopes will bring opportunities for today's Black Tulsans

  • to create the kind of generational wealth

  • seen decades ago on Black Wall Street.

  • - Block Tech Street is an initiative

  • to rebirth Black Wall Street as the premier Black tech hub

  • here in Tulsa.

  • - [Narrator] Currently in its beginning stages,

  • one aim of the project is to weave coding

  • and other applicable skills into afterschool programs

  • for Black children.

  • Billingsley says he has about $1 million

  • in verbal commitments,

  • and is working with partners to fundraise.

  • - We have a goal of facilitating $1 billion

  • worth of investment in this community

  • over the next 10 years,

  • you know, around six strategic pillars.

  • Entrepreneur support, narrative and communications,

  • capital, workforce, infrastructure, and policy.

  • - [Narrator] Other Black entrepreneurs are interested in

  • rebuilding wealth in this area,

  • but some Black Tulsans say the city must do a better job

  • in reconciling with its past

  • to protect the area's Black institutions and businesses.

  • - I want it to be so that an endowment is set up

  • so that these buildings are maintained,

  • and that economic development can be fostered.

  • - Hopefully, undoubtedly, we will have a conversation.

  • We will see some type of real reparations take place.

  • Black Wall Street as it was in 1921,

  • prior to the massacre and, as it was once it was rebuilt

  • in the 30s and 40s and 50s may never be again.

  • But Black Wall Street is an idea.

  • I appreciate the businesses that are here

  • in the Greenwood District.

  • And then we have the Greenwood Cultural Center.

  • We remain here telling the story.

  • We are actually looking forward to the next 100 years.

  • (emotional music)

(emotional music)

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Black Tulsans Work to Rebuild ‘Black Wall Street’ Decades After Massacre | WSJ

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/29
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